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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Monday, April 11, 2016

Why to read the Berlin Noir series

Philip Kerr's March Violets, first volume of his Berlin Noir trilogy, is great in many ways - but there's two things you don't want. First, don't obsess about the plot. There are so many twists, turns, encounters, and those fortunate events that populate most mystery/detective novels in which the protag just happens to meet a character who can fill him (that is, us) on every bit of background, etc. So just keep reading; don't worry too much about who dunnit or how. Second, you don't want Kerr (or his alter ego, Bernhard Gunther) describing you! Every character Gunther comes across gets a description, and, w/ the exception of the various "dames," every character is weirdly, hideously ugly - eyebrows like mangy caterpillars is just one phrase I can recall among the many. This novel pulls us in opposite directions: On the one hand, it's incredibly fun to read, not just the description of the characters but the noir writing w/ many similes and images, he out Chandlers Chandler - you could pick a page almost at random and get a great phrase or two or even more - he can't resist piling them up and you sometimes think, stop, you're blowing all your ammunition on a minor character or peripheral observation - but he's get a wealth of imagery to draw upon. What do I remember? How about nervous as a trout on a marble platter. Or cold as a treasure chest 50 fathoms deep. So, yes, fun to read - but on the other hand horrifying and frightening, far more than most innocuous noir fiction because it's not just the city and its moods and neighborhoods, like Spenser's Boston, say, but in this case it's Berlin 1935 and the background is that of storm-troopers, Gestapo thugs, Hitler and his propaganda machine, marching bands, Seig Heil salutes, and plenty of references to the fate of the Jews, selling their belongings, deprived of livelihood, desperate to leave and not convinced that what's happening all around them is real. So Kerr is playing for high stakes - it's both a detective yarn and a social commentary, historical fiction about the darkest moment in 20th-century history. Recently I posted on Modiano, for whom the crimes of the Nazis and the Occupying forces are beyond the margins, vanished but present by their absence; for Kerr the horrors of that era on the margin, still in the picture, looming and threatening everyone, forcing people - though not yet Gunther - in moral crisis and ethical dilemmas: cooperate? collaborate? lie? fight? flee?

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